Constitution of Man

The Creator God constituted the creature man with the life-function capacities of spiritual, psychological and physiological function. God's intent is that His presence in man might be allowed to express His character through the behavior of man unto His own glory.

©1998 by James A. Fowler. All rights reserved.

You are free to download this article provided it remains intact without alteration. You are also free to transmit this article electronically provided that you do so in its entirety with proper citation of authorship included.


 Man as God Intended Series

   It is amazing how abysmally ignorant men have been about their own composition and capabilities. Only as we understand how a human being is constituted or formed will we then be able to understand how mankind was intended to function.

   Our study of man's constitution or composition must begin in the first chapter of Genesis and the record of the creation of all things. In the creation account there seems to be a progression of increasingly complex levels of capacity for life-function. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). The living God created non-living substance; the greater bringing the lesser into being. Later the living God commences to create forms which have the capacity for life in several categories. It would be quite illogical to posit that objects which have life could have been derived from a non-living source. The living is not derived from the non-living. Nehemiah explains that "God dost give life to all" that is living on the earth (Neh. 9:6).

   The first created form which had capacity for life was the plant kingdom. "God said, 'Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with seed in them'" (Gen. 1:11). Plants have physical life in a physical form. The physical form wherein that physical life is expressed is referred to as a "body." The botanist, for example, refers to the "body" of the plant. Though the physical life within the plant is extremely complex in terms of the processes of nourishment, reproduction, photosynthesis, etc., there are obvious limitations to the expression of physical life within the plant kingdom behaviorally.

   When the animal kingdom came into being, they also had physical life in a physical form referred to as a "body," but they also had an additional capacity for life-function that included behavioral capabilities. "God said, 'Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.' And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that moves..." (Gen. 1:20,21).

   The capacity for behavioral life-function is referred to as "soul." Does an animal have this capacity of "soul" function? Many have been taught that an animal does not have soul, and that the distinguishing characteristic that differentiates man from an animal is that "man has a soul." What does the behavioral life-function of "soul" entail? Behavioral capability involves mental, emotional and volitional function. There is an ability to think with the mind, feel with the emotions, and determine with the will. To what extent do the different species of animals have the capacity to reason, feel and thus decide their course of action? Obviously this varies within the different species of animals; some have very limited behavioral capacity and others have quite complex behavioral capabilities.

   The field of study that concerns itself with behavioral capability is that which is identified as "psychology." The word "psychology" is derived from two Greek words: psuche meaning "soul," and logos meaning "word" or "logic", which together refer to "the study of the soul." Almost all of the older psychology texts indicated this meaning in their introduction, but the meaning is inexplicably deleted from most modern texts, probably to avoid any correlation with "religion." The educational discipline of psychology considers thinking processes, emotive processes, and the decision-making processes that activate behavior; the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we decide to act, as well as the consequences thereof. But, the question might still be asked, "Do animals have this capacity?"

   Throughout the New Testament the Greek word psuche is translated as "soul" or as the "life" function of the soul, which involves the individuality of the person, for it is in this capacity that differing personalities develop. Jesus said, for example, "whoever wishes to save his life (psuche) shall lose it; but whoever loses his life (psuche) for My sake shall find it. ...What will a man give in exchange for his soul (psuche)?" (Matt. 16:25,26).

   When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek word psuche was employed six hundred times to translate the Hebrew word nephesh, which likewise referred to the behavioral capacity of "soul." The very first usage of the Hebrew word nephesh appears in the verses cited above concerning the introduction of animals into God's created order. Literally these verses read, "And God said, 'Let the waters swarm with swarmers having living soul (nephesh)...' And God created the great sea-monsters and all having a living soul (nephesh)..." (Gen. 1:20,21)1 Later in the same chapter of Genesis, God says, "Let the earth bring forth living soul (nephesh) after its kind, cattle and creepers, and the beasts of the earth after its kind" (Gen. 1:24).2 Then again reference is made to "every beast of the earth, to every bird of the heavens, and to every creeper on the earth in which is a living soul (nephesh)" (Gen. 1:30).3 Reiterating the creation of animals, the second chapter of Genesis records that "Jehovah God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living soul (nephesh), that was its name" (Gen. 2:19).4 The same usage is found in Genesis 9: 10,15,16.

   It is obvious from these verses that the Hebrew word nephesh, translated into English as "soul," is applied to animals. Zoologists have certainly demonstrated that animals have varying capabilities of determinative behavioral function within the diverse species. Chimpanzees, dogs, cats, and even insects have this behavioral capacity of life-function.

   What, then, makes man different from the animals? The human race has the capacity for physical life-function within a physical body, as do both plants and animals. With the animal kingdom we share the capacity for behavioral life-function within a soul that has mental, emotional and volitional operations, and the human capabilities for such exceed all known abilities within all the species of the animal kingdom. Man has greater capacity for reasoning, responding with emotion, and making complex decisions than does any animal. The progression of creation indicates that man not only has the capacity for physical life-function in a "body," and the capacity for behavioral life-function in a "soul," but to these are added the capacity for spiritual life-function in a "spirit." The prophet explains that "the Lord stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him" (Zech. 12:1). Job also indicates that "the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life" (Gen. 33:4), for "it is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding" (Job 32:8). Man, the highest of God's creation, is designed by the Creator, the "God who is Spirit," to "worship Him in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Anthropologists and sociologists explain that man has always been, and is always a worshipping creature, which is never true within the animal kingdom. That which distinguishes man from the animals is that man has the additional capacity of spiritual life-function.

   Mankind has the capacity for life-function at three levels: body and soul and spirit. The apostle Paul prayed for the Thessalonian Christians that "the God of peace Himself might sanctify them entirely; and their spirit (pneuma) and soul (psuche)and body (soma) might be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ" (I Thess. 5:23). His desire was that Christians might be sanctified, might "be set apart to function as intended," at every level of their life-function, physical, psychological and spiritual. The conjunction "and" between each level of life-function sets each apart as distinct and important for God's intent in man. Many exegetes, expositors and teachers have failed to note the distinction of these three capacities of life-function. The failure to do so leads to much ambiguity and misunderstanding.

   It must first be admitted that these are not three substantive "parts" of man, capable of being partitioned or compartmentalized. That is why we continue to refer to these as three levels of capacity for life-function, rather than entities which comprise man. The theological terms which refer to the tripartite or trichotomous nature of man are misleading, therefore, and are best avoided. The two-dimensional diagrams used to illustrate these varying life-functions are always inadequate since they picture separate compartments. (See diagram below.)

   Man's most cursory pondering of his own constitution yields a distinguishing of that which can be seen and that which cannot be seen, the visible and the invisible, the corporeal and the incorporeal. The body, being physical and material and tangible, is differentiated from the inner being of man, which is immaterial. Jesus explained that we should "not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul (psuche); but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul (psuche) and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). In like manner Paul explains that "though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day" (II Cor. 4:16). Some have taken these verses as their primary documentation to posit a dichotomy of man's constitution, and to deny the three-fold designation of man's capacity for life-function. They explain that "soul" and "spirit" are but synonyms which refer to the "inner man," and cannot be differentiated. Eventually, though, they must admit that there is a difference between the psychological function of man and the spiritual function of man. Otherwise, psychological therapy is the salvation of man, and Sigmund Freud is our Savior. God forbid! Scripture is quite clear in the differentiating of these capacities of life-function. The writer to the Hebrews explains that "the Word of God (Jesus Christ) is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the division of soul (psuche) and spirit (pneuma), of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). The life-function of the soul and the life-function of the spirit are explicitly separated in this verse.

   When God the Creator created man, He "formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man become a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). This reiterative record of man's creation is loaded with insights into man's constitution and intended function. The body of man was "formed of dust from the ground," into which God breathed the breath (or spirit) of life, and man became a behaviorally functional soul (nephesh). The three-fold capacity of life-function is apparent in this verse; body, spirit and soul. The Hebrew word for "breath" is n'shahmah. This is the same word found in Proverbs 20:27 where it is translated, "The spirit (n'shahmah) of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts of his being." Both the Hebrew and Greek languages employ a word that can be translated both "breath" and "spirit." The Greek word for "spirit" is pneuma, from which we get such English words as "pneumatic" and "pneumonia," which refer to air and breathing. Additionally it can be noted that when God "breathed the spirit of life" into man, the word for "life" in the original Hebrew text is plural in number. This would seem to represent that God imparted to man His own triune life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so that man might function as God intended. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), uses the Greek word zoe as the word for "life" in Genesis 2:7, along with a derivative of the same word to explain that man "became spiritually alive in his behavioral life-function of the soul."

   The Greek language had several words which we translate into English as "life." These different words helped them to clarify the capacity of life-function at the differing levels. The Greek word bios referred primarily to physical life (cf. Luke 8:14: I Tim. 2:2; II Tim. 2:4). It is the word from which we get the English words "biology," "biography," "biosphere" etc., all having to do with physical life. The Greek word psuche has been previously noted as referring to behavioral life-function. It is the word from which we get the English words "psyche," "psychology" etc., referring to behavioral function. The third Greek word translated into English as "life" is the word zoe. This is somewhat misleading since this is the word from which we derive such English words as "zoo" and "zoology" referring to animals. In the New Testament, however, it is used to refer to the spiritual life that is in Jesus Christ. "In Him was life (zoe), and the life (zoe) was the light of men" (John 1:4). "I am the way, the truth and the life (zoe)," Jesus said (John 14:6). "I came that you might have life (zoe), and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). "These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life (zoe) in His name" (John 20:31). "He who has the Son has the life (zoe); he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life (zoe)" (I John 5:12). By these three words the Greeks could distinguish between the three capacities of life-function in man, whereas by translating all three of them as "life" in English, we fail to thus differentiate.

   Early Christian writers clearly understood these capacities of life-function within man. Tertullian, for example, who lived circa 150-220 A.D., explained that the body was the area of "world-consciousness," the soul was the area of "personal-consciousness," and the spirit was the area of "God-consciousness." In creating man with these three capacities of life-function, God intended that man might behave on a different basis from all other forms of His creation. Man was created with the capacity for spiritual life-function so that the very presence of the Spirit of God might dwell within the spirit of man in order to activate the character of God within the behavioral life-function of man's soul and allow such to be expressed in man's external behavior of the body unto the glory of God. As the highest order of creation, mankind was designed with the capacity to incorporate the spiritual life of God within his spirit, and express God's character of love, joy, peace, patience, etc. in his behavior, as no other part of the created order is capable of doing.

The spiritual impartation of God's life into this capacity for spiritual life-function in man, in the spirit of man, was expressed by God's "breathing the breath (or spirit, n'shahmah) of life" into man (Gen. 2:7), at his creation. It is also expressed in the initial account of God's creation of man in the first chapter of Genesis: "Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness;...' And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen. 1:26,27). The "image of God" has been much debated in Christian theology, but the primary fallacy has been to consider man and find something about man that is like unto God. Suggestions of such include upright stature, spirituality, rationality, emotion, volition, personality, moral determination, sociability, masculinity, etc. Perhaps the best English translation of "image" is "visage" or "visibility." When Paul explains that "Christ is the image of God" (Col. 1:15; II Cor. 4:4), he is noting that Jesus Christ is the incarnate visible expression of the invisible character of God. When God created man and "breathed into him the spirit of lives" (Gen. 2:7), investing him with the living spiritual presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, He did so with the intent that man might choose to allow for the visible expression of the invisible character of God within His behavior, thus allowing God to be glorified by the expression of His all-glorious character, the purpose for which we were created (Isa. 43:7). We are created with the capacity of spiritual life-function, in order to allow the spiritual character of God to be "imaged" and "visibly expressed" in our behavior.

   It is important to remember that this is not an inherent capability of man to express God's character and "be like God." We are created with the capacity for spiritual life-function, and initially God invested His presence in man's spirit, but God also created us with freedom of choice to decide whether we would respond in contingency, dependency and receptivity in order to derive the divine character expression from His indwelling presence. Man is a responsible choosing creature who was designed to choose in faith to allow God to influence his thinking, affections and decisions in such a way that the man might freely choose to express godly character in his behavior.

  Once again this obviates the difference between the function of man and animal. Animals have the capacity for physical life-function and the capacity for psychological life-function, but they do not have the capacity for spiritual life-function. The behavior of the animal is not energized and activated by spirit, but is configured into remarkable patterns of instinctual behavior. Each species of animal has these pre-programmed behavioral patterns of instinct. God could have created man with such an instinctual behavior pattern to function as God intended, but such would not have allowed for a free faith/love relationship between God and man. This is why God created man with the capacity for spiritual life-function, so that man could be energized and activated by the presence of a spiritual being that indwelt his spirit, and free to choose to allow the expression of the character of that spiritual being to be expressed in his behavior. God's intent, of course, was that His own invisible, all-glorious character might be expressed visibly in the behavior of man as man freely chose to bear His "image" and glorify God. The freedom of choice necessitates an alternative, as we shall discover in the next study.

   If we do not understand the constitution of man as comprised of the capacities of spiritual life-function, psychological life-function and physical life-function, in spirit and soul and body, then we will remain befuddled in understanding man's function and behavior. Ambiguities concerning man's constitution and function in both religious and psychological studies have long hindered explanations of man's behavior and the clear presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

   Every two-dimensional diagram is inadequate to illustrate the constitution of man and the capacities of life-function in man. This diagram of concentric circles, though inadequate, still serves a constructive purpose in providing a visible tool for conceptualization, as long as the life-functions are not conceived as "parts" or "compartments."



 Man as God intended series